"Im not talking to you again." Could SABMiller be a little annoyed with Heineken right now?

"I'm not talking to you again." Could SABMiller be a little annoyed with Heineken right now?

From some of the noises coming out of London yesterday, I am willing to suggest the following:

  1. SABMiller is rather annoyed with Heineken. That's probably because,
  2. Heineken broke an unwritten rule among the larger companies by going public on its talks with SABMiller.

It was at its latest quarterly seminar with analysts and media in London yesterday that SABMiller's CEO, Alan Clark, faced inevitable questions about last month's announcement from Heineken that it had met with SABMiller and discussed a possible takeover from the world's second-largest brewer. “Heineken has consulted with its majority shareholder and concluded that SABMiller's proposal is non-actionable,” the Dutch company said on 15 September.

The move seemed to many to be an attempt by SABMiller to ward off any future overtures from Anheuser-Busch InBev. Clark, however, was keen yesterday to quash such suggestions. “There was much made, particularly in the media, that it (the Heineken move) was a sign of a defensiveness within SABMiller,” he said. “There’s absolutely no truth in that.

I can imagine Clark was not too happy at having to field such questions about Heineken's statement (which, let's not forget, Heineken was not in any way obliged to release) – indeed, several of those present at the seminar sensed an air of irritation from SABMiller's CEO.

There are usually two ways that companies field M&A-related queries: The most popular line is that it is the firm's policy “not to comment on rumour or speculation”. Get to know the company a little better, however, and the second answer occasionally crops up: “We all speak to each other all the time.”

I have been told that SABMiller did not know of Heineken's intentions to go public until the statement went out. I can imagine, however, that senior folk at SABMiller's head office will have been asking at the time: “Didn't we ask them not to tell anyone?”

It often irks me when folk say to me that nothing they tell me can be considered off-the-record any more – believe me, if it's off-the-record, it's off-the-record. What Heineken and SABMiller's crossing of paths – and subsequent fall-out – has shown is that nothing is 'between you and me' any more.